Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A UF/IFAS Water School Near You

Water Schools are an expanding priority for UF/IFAS. The concept was originally conceived in Polk County in the 90s and then caught on throughout neighboring Southwest FL. Currently there are plans to develop water schools in Marion, Brevard, Citrus and Lake/Sumter Counties. On June 27th the Lake/Sumter Water School is set to debut. Event co-organizer Lloyd Singleton (of Sumter County Extension) recently communicated with IrriGator to offer further insight into the Lake/Sumter County effort.

Lloyd Singleton (left) and Steve Turnipseed inspect a FL native (image FANN)
What do you feel is the most pressing water issue in your area of FL?
LS: Rapid planned residential development in the south part of Lake County (Clermont, Minneola, Groveland) and the north part of Sumter County (The Villages) are increasing the demands for water. Lots of new lawns and landscapes with irrigation, so water quantity is of great concern. Given its namesake, Lake County has water quality concerns for the beautiful chains of lakes in the region.

How often are water schools conducted in your counties?
LS: We conducted a water school for local community leaders last summer (2016), and this is our first one open to the general public. One of the outcomes of that water school, where we used Dr. Borisova’s evaluation, was that they suggested the same information be provided to the general public. So that’s what we decided to do this summer. Some of the information may be over the heads of the general public, but I’m not a big believer in dumbing stuff down. Sometimes you need to challenge critical thinking with a little bit of higher level information. 

We are grateful to our sponsors, the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for providing the resources to share this event with the general public. If it is well received and the word spreads, I’m confident we can do more.

The water school program includes quite an array of expertise, who is the intended audience?
LS: The program is open to anyone; we are seeing interest from a wide variety of folks, including Master Gardeners, the environmentally-minded, early adopters of all sorts. We’ve assembled experts in numerous fields related to water, ready to share their expertise and answer your questions about this precious, limited natural resource.

There is a water school goodie bag to entice attendees. What kind of useful items are included?
LS: The gift bag itself is a reusable grocery bag in beautiful UF blue, labeled Water School. We will also provide a flash drive with all of the presenter’s presentations included as .pdfs, a personal water bottle, hose end spray nozzle, a fertilizer guide, bookmark, and lots of Florida-Friendly Landscaping information is included, too.

All of the above and information straight from the experts
Co-organized by Juanita Popenoe, PhD., and Lloyd Singleton, the Lake/Sumter County Water School takes place Tuesday, June 27th. Register here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Just in Time: Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology Releases a Drought Toolkit

Recently the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (CLCE) released an information package including some of the best IFAS expertise on water-use in a drought context. With municipalities and water management districts in Central and Southwest Florida declaring Phase III water restrictions, this is timely insight to have on hand. Prior to the info release Center Director Dr. Michael Dukes granted IrriGator a brief interview to discuss the CLCE’s role in drought and easy ways to address water-waste in your irrigation system.

What does CLCE hope to achieve with the release of all this drought relevant information/insight?
MD: We’re really trying to promoting awareness of the drought. It has been ten years since we’ve had a drought here this widespread. There have been many pockets of dryness (South Florida for example) in between. But really to promote awareness and get people thinking about that our water resources are limited.
U.S. Drought Monitor stats for FL as of late May. (via USDM)
What role do you feel IFAS and CLCE can play in this kind of context?
MD: Our role right now is the awareness part. What can you do about it. And if you’re faced with drought what are some of your options. But I think the building of the awareness part is one of the most important parts because every day when we’re not in a drought we’re conducting research and education on best practices, use of smart irrigation technologies, efficient irrigation, Florida-Friendly Landscaping – we’re doing all those things year round. If you do implement these things you’ll be better prepared for a drought.

This season I know many of the water management districts have stepped up their messaging about drought. Are there opportunities for collaboration with these entities?
MD: Short answer is I think so. The longer answer is there is not a formal mechanism for it. We don’t have a regular meeting with all five water management districts. However, we do have informal relationships and once we get our drought information package together St. Johns River Water Management District has asked us for it. We’ll help them by providing the best science that we have.
What are some easy, fast ways to implement best practices to reduce water use in a drought context?
MD: Well, the irony of a drought is you need to water. It’s not the best time to cut your water back. If you have a maintained landscape you’re going to be watering it right now, probably quite a bit. But the practices, the research and education that we conduct all will set you up better for a drought. But it’s stuff you have to do before you get there. Putting in a smart controller right now is probably not going to save any water unless you’re ridiculously overwatering. But from the utility data that we’ve seen people tend to underwater a little bit during this time of year. So people are probably struggling to put enough water on to maintain an aesthetic value of their landscape. The need of the landscapes are very high right now.

The low hanging fruit from an irrigation standpoint, drought or not: adjust the throw on your sprinklers so you’re not watering the road, fix breaks, and check for other obvious issues like clogged heads. The more advanced stuff like smart controllers, they may not save you water right now, certainly rain sensors won’t since it’s not raining. But these things will save you water once we do get to that rainy season.

Dive into the CLCE’s Drought Toolkit here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making Sense of Landscape Fertilizer Ordinances in Florida

Water quality is a hot topic in Florida. If you follow water media you’ll know that in the wake of 2016’s algal blooms along some of the state’s finest coastlines, putting policy in place to lessen the possibility of future recurrences was a top priority during the Legislative Session. During debates therein everything from Ag, to septic tanks to landscape fertilizer were mentioned as factors contributing to poor water quality. While IFAS research suggests landscape fertilizer does not play as significant a role as its often assigned, the reality is that much of the state has crafted ordinances on when it should/should not be applied (some vigorously contested).

What part of Florida has enacted which landscape fertilizer ordinance? Good question! Enter turfgrass specialist Dr. J. Bryan Unruh. Earlier this year Dr. Unruh tweeted a preview of a mobile website/app he is developing about landscape fertilizer ordinances throughout Florida. IrriGator caught up with Dr. Unruh during the recent Urban Landscape Summit and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about this exciting project.

How did the idea for the fertilizer ordinance app come about?
JBU: Working with the landscape industry in Florida – with now over 100 landscape ordinances, there’s a lot of confusion, especially in the larger urban areas (Orlando and Tampa) where you have multiple counties. So the idea was conceived that if you have a GPS-enabled smart phone you can hit a button and it will tell you exactly what ordinance is in place at that particular point. Nobody has really kept a very accurate compilation of all of these ordinances. My masters student, Christopher Ryan, through some of his work had created ArcGIS maps that show where all these ordinances are. So we’re merging this information into a handy app.
A screenshot preview of app interface (via Dr. Unruh)

Who is the intended audience for this product?
JBU: The primary audience would be the landscape industry. There’s an estimated 70,000 fertilizer applicators out there. Extension faculty as well might find it useful. I don’t presume to think an average homeowner would purchase this app, but they might.

Is this a stand-alone app or is it web-based?
JBU: We’re using app and mobile-website interchangeably. A mobile-website links into the database that is housed on a server. Whereas an app, your updates are tied to app stores. If they don’t push down an update as soon as we would like, then we have a problem.

There is a functional component, too. As we’ve compiled these databases, a lot of it is reactive. You’ll hear about an ordinance and then you have to go vet it out. But with 70,000 landscapers out there, this app has functionality in it where an industry person may hear about something happening in their municipality or their county, they can actually upload information into the tool that then comes back to us and then we can vet for accuracy. They won’t be able to change the database or maps, but they can provide us their ears on the ground.

Will this be a free service?
JBU: The app is a for sale product. You pay a fee for access. We have partial funding from Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, FNGLA, and internal program funds. It may not have thousands and thousands of users, but I think that those users that do have it will find it to be very helpful.
Detailed ordinance info at your fingertips (via Dr. Unruh)
The Florida Fertilizer Ordinances app will be released in the coming weeks. Watch this space for updates and links.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Water Need and Water Use in Landscape Irrigation

By Michael Dukes

“Turf grasses need irrigation systems. Some grasses listed as Florida-Friendly need tremendous volumes of water. The homeowner also needs to fertilize and quickly address diseases and pests that will be present. Despite the homeowner's best efforts, all or part of the turf will need to be replaced every 4 to 5 years.”
- email from master gardener

A Need Benchmark
People often work under the assumption that turfgrass needs a lot of water. What is the definition of a lot? Normally, turfgrass is irrigated far more than it needs to be and this reinforces the perception that it needs a lot. There are lots of misconceptions about how much is used and how much is needed. If people knew how much is really needed, there would be a benchmark and you would have an idea of where you are relative to what is needed.

Michael Dukes and Bernard Cardenas in the research plots
An example is the comparison homes treatment (no technology, monitor-only) used in our Orange County smart irrigation study. We’re in our 6th year of data collection. Over that whole time period, the average application for those homes has been more than an inch per week – that’s over 52 inches a year, no matter how much rainfall. And we’re getting about 40+ inches of rainfall in a year. That’s 90 inches of water being applied to the landscape. But ET (evapotranspiration) of turfgrass is only maybe 30 inches in Orlando.

A properly installed weather-based irrigation controller
Timing is everything - for turfgrass in particular, with shallow root zones. In theory, if we get 40 inches of rainfall and ET is 30 inches, the amount of rainfall far exceeds the amount of water that plant needs. But it’s not timed perfectly. There are dry times and there are times when you get excess water. That’s where irrigation comes in. If you time that irrigation perfectly you’re in the mid-20 inches of water needed.

Ideally if you’re applying at the right time at the right amount, which a smart irrigation controller allows you to do automatically, you should be in that mid-20 inches of water applied. The comparison home treatments are applying over 50 inches. That’s why smart technology is a viable way of getting irrigation in the right ball park. They are not perfect, but when the problem is 2x and you have a solution that gets you to 1.3x or 1.5x you’ve made a huge dramatic improvement by doing one thing.

A Use Percentage
Image via Ewing
I often am asked how much water is used for irrigation, usually referring to single family homes. Often we see a mysteriously even number of 50% cited. The truth is that irrigation water use varies in time and space. In areas with more irrigation systems, there will necessarily be more irrigation water use. In drier years, irrigation water use will be higher. I believe the 50% number is a very convenient number to cite but here’s what we know based on data from Florida.

The reality is that in a given utility there will be a spectrum of users with most not over irrigating or perhaps irrigating at all. In Mackenzie Boyer’s recent work in Southwest FL we showed this for the Tampa Bay region, (Mining for water: Using billing data to characterize residential irrigation demand). That said, other utilities in the east and southeast part of the state have higher irrigation demand since their conservation programs typically aren’t as developed as in the SW region.

Additional research informing on water-use estimates:
Romero & Dukes (2016): A Method to Estimate Residential Irrigation from Potable Meter Data – Metered data from Orlando (1,781 homes) showed that irrigation accounted for 64% of total use.  The first paragraph also gives a good summary of several other studies that reported Florida residential irrigation use (ranging from 25-75% of total use).

Boyer et. al (2014): Irrigation Conservation of Florida-Friendly Landscaping Based on Water Billing Data – Again, the introduction summarizes key statistics from Florida studies.  For example, Haley et al. (2007) estimated 64% in central Florida, and Romero and Dukes (2014) estimated 32-63% in central Florida.

A good resource for how much to water your landscape depending on region in Florida, time of year and irrigation system can be found here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Charles Barrett and Understanding the Importance of Water in Florida

This month marks a year for Dr. Charles Barrett as water regional specialized agent (RSA) for UF/IFAS Northeast District. This district spans Jacksonville, the Suwannee River Valley and the Nature Coast. I caught up with him during Urban Landscape Summit 2017 and he was kind enough to speak with IrriGator about his RSA experience thus far.

Dr. Charles Barrett - Regional Specialized Agent, water resources
What attracted you to the Water RSA position?
CB: I did my PhD research in agriculture (ag) irrigation and best management practices for water and nutrient management. That’s what got me interested in it. And being a Florida resident my whole life I understand the importance of water to Florida. If there’s something I can do to help out I’m excited to do that.

What are the most critical water issues in your district?
CB: We have some new basin management action plans coming into place. My role with IFAS extension is education about what this means for our residents in the district. It’s a very rural area, so I'm getting the message out to farmers and small communities so that they understand what the implication of a basin management action plan is and how they can get prepared for it.

Dr. Barrett (middle) presents at an irrigation demo
Also, out of the 31 listed Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS), we have 17 of them in my district. That’s a large majority. OFS in the new water bill got special attention so if you have an OFS in your basin management action plan you have even more stuff you have to pay attention to. There’s a lot coming down the pike and I feel there’s not a whole lot of education going on about that. This is where we step in and give the science and information. I feel we have to do a much better job of getting information out to people.

Being almost a year into this position are you satisfied with how the work is coming along?
CB: I feel like I’m starting to get the lay of the land which is the most critical part in any job. There was nobody before me to tell me what I needed to do - which is exciting but sometimes a challenge because you’re kind of making up your own road map as you go. You’ve got to do a needs assessment and figure out where the big fires are and start working on putting those fires out first. In my area, being that it’s predominantly ag, a lot of the identification of the nutrient loads in the rivers and in the springs has been identified as ag-related. That’s the big fire right now, to get those guys to understand how important best management practices are. How it’s not only important to enroll, but the rule has now changed that you have to verify your implementation of it. That means good record-keeping. It’s a lot of education on that.

Read Dr. Barrett's article on soil sensors & irrigation scheduling
If I can say anything is a success, it’s just making relationships right now – working with the water management district, working with FDACS, working with DEP and the Suwannee River Partnership has been huge up there. We meet regularly and we talk about these issues. We have a really tight-knit group. So I think the biggest success so far is that I’ve been able to get on board with those guys and to work hand-in-hand with the guys that are trying to get this information out. We’re all working together. I’d like to see more success on the side of getting things done, but that comes with time.

Before I met you I knew you from Twitter. Can you talk about why you joined Twitter and some benefits of maintaining a digital presence?
CB: I created an account on Twitter right when I first started as a water RSA. I went through the professional development academy, or new agent training, and it was brought to my attention how that media stream could be useful in your career. I figured like-minded people might find some of the stuff that I find interesting interesting to them. That’s why I got on it. I didn’t think anybody was looking at it! I see you on there with IrriGator and you’re always picking up stuff that I miss so it’s awesome. If I find something, or you guys find something, we can all share it along. I thought I’d never be on Twitter, I’m not a social media type of person. But it’s kind of cool.

Read profiles on Water RSAs James Fletcher and Dr. Lisa Krimsky.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

From Field Technician to Hydrologist

Last week Eliza Breder successfully defended her MSc thesis on irrigation patterns as influenced by smart irrigation technology. Ms. Breder first joined ABE and the Dukes research group as a field technician in 2013. We worked together on everything from frost protection irrigation, distribution uniformity sprinkler nozzle trials, and the Orange County-based smart irrigation study which would eventually move her out of the field and back into the classroom. As she prepares for the next chapter in her water-use focused career, Ms. Breder agreed to speak with IrriGator about her ABE experience.

Eliza Breder - Master of Science and future Hydrologist
What has been the focus of your research as a Masters student with the Dukes group?
EB: I’ve worked on the OCU (Orange County Utilities) project where we look at smart irrigation technology and the water savings from different technologies and optimized treatments. Specifically what I’ve looked at with that data is the hourly irrigation patterns of each treatment. This means looking at the irrigation applied over the week, in addition to the irrigation applied per event, and the number of events that occur per week on average for each treatment.  
Residential soil moisture sensor

Something else that we look at that ties into these objectives is the comparison homes. These homes have no technology and are not exempt from watering restrictions. They still irrigate once or twice a week depending on the time of the year. That data has been separated by even and odd address and time period to see whether or not they violate watering restrictions. We’ve found that about 20% violate two day restrictions and about 40% violate one day restrictions. What’s interesting about that is they’re supposed to irrigate on specific days of the week, so violation means they may be irrigating more, or just irrigating on the wrong days.

Where all this really ties together is that the smart irrigation technology overall applies less weekly irrigation on average than the comparison homes. However, some of the technologies will irrigate more frequently over the week, this is true for the weather based timers. The soil moisture sensor homes tend to irrigate at the same frequency as comparison, but not as much water is applied.  
Stand alone weather-based irrigation controller

For high irrigators (comparison homes), while some of them do abide by watering restrictions they still apply a lot of irrigation. Maybe there is a better solution for this type of homeowner.

Is water-use research something you were always interested in as an undergrad?
EB: Towards the end of undergrad I was interested in learning more about water use and water conservation. This was a really great opportunity for me, especially for work in Florida. This is an ag-based state, especially in North Florida. We also have a lot of really important water resources here.

My general interest has always been about the environment and water. I went abroad for a year in Brazil and I had a really interesting internship. It wasn’t necessarily about irrigation but it was about water supply. It was under a different context - different country, different issues. But it became important to me to learn about what’s going on with water where I’m from.  

Do you feel your experience as a graduate student has prepared you for the working world?
EB: Yes. Coming across a problem in my data, or in my research, or trying to understand what the objective is - trying to make sure it makes sense, but also answering to someone. Answering to Orange County or Dr. Dukes to make sure it’s in line with their vision and making that work in the statistics and the code I’ve written for the data - so problem solving definitely.

Field days - Eliza Breder calibrates frost protection impact spray heads
Also I can manage data. I can use R and Excel and this was a big selling point. Even if it’s new data that I’m not familiar with, the ability to learn new things and do it on your own was extremely valuable when applying for jobs.

What can you tell us about the next chapter of your water-use research career?
EB: I’ve accepted a job offer to work as a hydrologist with Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD). There are general hydrology and irrigation principles but sometimes it’s helpful to know about specific issues in a specific area – the way groundwater resources work and the way the industry deals with it. It was advantageous for me to stay in the same area given my knowledge.

Maria Zamora and Eliza Breder at strawberry plot in Citra
On a personal level, while I mainly deal with irrigation data, the SRWMD area does have a lot of agriculture. I’m looking forward to learning more about hydrology in that area and going out for field work visits to see how they actually collect the data I’ll be managing. I look at it as an overall learning experience - a place where I can bring the skills that I have to use to get things done.   

You created and maintained a digital presence on Twitter as a graduate student. Can you speak to why and if you’ll continue to develop this as a professional?
EB: It was a great move for getting my name out and learning a little bit about what other people are doing. It was fun even tweeting about some of the challenges I had overcome in my research. It got me some attention. And the people that are looking at you are people you might be interested in learning about, or brands or water management districts. It’s great for getting the word out about yourself and for expressing your professional interests, and also for learning about colleagues, or potential colleagues.

Eliza on catch can detail (image: Gainesville Sun)
I’ll still be active on it to talk about current water resource issues or great things we’re doing at the district or something interesting that happened in the field. It’s definitely a great tool.

The Dukes program consistently develops/prepares top-notch water-use research personnel. What would you attribute this to?
EB: I’ve definitely improved on my skills being here. There is an element where Dr. Dukes has this expectation that you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself, that you’re capable of putting things together on your own. He doesn’t need to hold your hand. You become independent in that way. Sometimes if you can figure one thing out it’s sort of a domino effect. The sky is the limit. For me that was R. When I first started working with R in different classes it was definitely a challenge. But I got over that peak and that was my own motivation. You have to be self-motivated.

Dukes research team 
Of course, there is also taking good classes. And Dr. Dukes making sure you have a solid literature review, and that we have solid objectives, and a solid project behind you. For me, coming in with a project already in progress – there was a huge management side of it, but there was a lot of data there and not a lot of waiting. Ultimately, he expects you to be independent and a go-getter, and in that space I was able to figure a lot out for myself, and what did and did not work, which was a really great learning experience.

Eliza Breder and Sara Wynn help us learn irrigation basics

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Flip My Florida Yard: Florida-Friendly Landscaping Gets the Star Treatment

Thanks to alert undergraduate Sienna Turner, late last year I had the opportunity to participate in a shoot for the new reality series Flip My Florida Yard here in Alachua County. The concept: a family dissatisfied with their drab or derelict landscape has an army of landscaping professionals redesign their yard in the course of a work day to reflect the 9 Florida-Friendly principles. Ms. Turner saw a call for volunteers that Sustainable UF published online and off we went to pitch in and see the action.
Start at the Beginning
How exactly does one flip an entire yard in just one day? For starters, you have to rise and shine at the crack of dawn in 40 degree December weather! The Alachua-based Frontrunner’s Chapter of FNGLA was instrumental in gathering contractors, equipment and supplies for the day’s work. What I was told would normally take a crew of 4 workers two days to accomplish, would be tackled by a crew of 20 in 8 hours. 
The yard flipping crew gathers at sunrise in Newberry
Chapter president Stefan Liopiros (of Lawn Enforcement Agency, Inc.) described the day’s mission: “One of the reasons their yard doesn’t look so great is because they don’t like taking care of it so we want to go in and do something and make a change to it so it’s going to look great without a lot of maintenance. One of the objectives with our design today is a very low-maintenance, highly attractive water-saving landscape.”

Look familiar? This landscape is ready to flip 
The Look
Upon initial inspection the existing yard looked simple enough – minimalist, turf-centric, weedy, and with little shade and few ornamentals. You might call this a traditional Florida landscape design. I’ve certainly seen it countless times during irrigation system assessment work around the state. 

A look at the Florida-Friendly design plans 
Stacie Greco, Water Conservation Coordinator with Alachua County Environmental Protection, noted that one of the benefits of the Flip My Florida Yard program is showcasing different aesthetics. “We’re trying to switch, to shift that landscaping paradigm where people start to include more landscapes in what they think is beautiful and acceptable,” Ms. Greco said. “Not just a bright green, plush carpet-like lawn, but something that might have some more diversity and use a little bit less water and chemicals.”

Water on the Brain
Resource efficiency is the bread and butter of an FFL design. And I’ll be honest what I was interested in most was the site’s irrigation - what was already there pre-flip and what would it look like in the end. According to Mr. Lioprios this was one of the challenges of reworking the yard. “The question is: do you rip out the whole existing system and start over, or do you take the existing system and try to hybridize it and turn it into something that’s a low-volume system?”
FMFY host Chad Crawford (right) talks soil health with Stefan Lioprios
Mr. Lioprios continued, “based on the time frame we chose to use as much of the original pipe work as possible and convert it over into a low-volume drip system.” From what I saw the new ornamental–laden front yard was converted to drip and the remaining turf areas on the side of the house and in the backyard stayed the same.

8 Hours Later
As promised, the Frontrunners FNGLA Chapter flipped the yard in one work day. New features included boulders, palm trees, generous use of mulch, a sprouting container-vegetable garden, and an assortment of native and low-maintenance plants. 

Standing ovation for an 8-hour Florida-Friendly yard flip! (image via Frontrunners)
The takeaways for me: professional reality show productions might be fun to watch but are tedious to witness, and a well-designed landscape definitely makes for a more inviting living area. Title sponsor FNGLA funded 4 productions of Flip My Florida Yard in homes across the state. Preview a yard flip in Bradenton here and check your local listings for information on when Flip My Florida Yard broadcasts in your area.

Not bad for a day's work. Find out when Flip My Florida Yard airs in your area!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Two Days of Landscape Talk

Last month marked the 2nd annual Urban LandscapeSummit. For two days researchers, state specialists and graduate students gathered on the UF campus to learn about new findings in landscaping and related topics. The following is a short summary from my perspective.

Big Moods
Day one began on a high note with wetlands and water quality expert Dr. Mark Clark’s expansive presentation on urban stormwater quality. I had never heard of “slab on grade” construction and found the complementing sections of Dr. Clark’s talk to be one revelation after another. Likewise for Dr. Hayk Khachatryan’s investigation of homeowners and alternative residential landscapses, as well as Dr. Gurpal Toor’s look at algal blooms and fertilizer bans in Florida.

Of course no summit would be complete without a look into the future and on day two researchers behind the Water 2070 report provided just that. Attendees got a feel for why Florida continues to attract new residents, how the 2070 report generated its future projections and what practices, including IFAS programs, can offer some sustainable solutions to the challenges ahead.
One welcome change from the previous landscape summit was this year's digital presence on Twitter. At least half a dozen accounts were live-tweeting from the event and IFAS had their new social media manager working in the audience.

IrriGator took advantage of the summit’s draw to interview a number of experts for future blog content. These included a IFAS Water RSAs Drs. Mary Lusk and Charles Barrett, whom actively maintain a presence on Twitter. I knew these agents from their tweet content before meeting them in person. Stay tuned for their insight on how digital presence can be a benefit to research and outreach. 

Graduate students play an important role in the summit event. They have an opportunity to share their research in 5 minute lightning sessions and they also present posters for judging.  
Best posters this year included:
  • PhD candidate Xumin Zhang for Investigating Homeowners' Preferences for Smart Irrigation Technology Features
  • Master student Allison Bechtloff with Producers Value Sterile Cultivar Research for Potentially Invasive Plants for the Horticulture Industry in the southeastern United States 
Looking Ahead
If nothing else, 2017’s Urban Landscape Summit established how salient many of these research areas are to the viability and sustainability of quality of life in Florida. Further, the “New Faculty” session indicates that the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology and IFAS are adding even more experts to work on these issues. See you next year! 

Editor's Note: many of the slide presentations from the summit 
are now available in PDF form here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Drought and Surplus: Adventures in Water-Use with Morgan Hopkins

Few people were more excited than me when Morgan Hopkins was hired as Florida Yards and Neighborhoods agent at Miami-Dade County Extension. This program includes the irrigation outfit wherein I learned everything I know about irrigation tech and media work. Ms. Hopkins was eminently qualified and the right person at the right time for that program. Life being what it is, however, she is now following other opportunities west. As a water-use expert working in one of the two high-profile, IFAS-affiliated irrigation rebate programs in Florida, Ms. Hopkins agreed to share exiting insights with IrriGator.
Water-use expert Morgan Hopkins
You joined the irrigation program at Miami-Dade Extension fresh from graduate school. What drew you to Miami-Dade?
MH: I had a really great experience as an undergraduate working with Oklahoma’s Cooperative Extension Service and working with Oklahoma City developing their water conservation program. Having the opportunity to continue in a career where I’m able to educate residents on outdoor water conservation, this was something too good to pass up. I was able to get a taste of how important that was in Oklahoma. I thought it would be great to be able to continue this with the University of Florida. Then realizing how strong the extension network was made it even more attractive.

The only hesitation for me was the intimidation of learning a completely different environment as far as plant material goes, and then actually tackling water conservation in an area that typically gets a surplus of water. The size of Miami didn’t really intimidate me. In my mind I thought “well, great that’s just more people to reach and to educate,” instead of seeing it as more work. For me it was about how am I going to frame water conservation in an area that typically gets plenty of rainfall and has access to quite a bit of water?

What are the challenges of managing a large-scale water program in an urban center like Miami-Dade?
MH: One of the challenges: when we met with homeowners one of the common things we heard is “I’m on a well, I don’t really need to save water.”  That disconnect of the water situation in South Florida was really something that we had to educate more people on. That kind of surprised me. I figured with sea level rise and the Biscayne aquifer and salt-water intrusion that people might be more aware of these things. But again that was just another educational opportunity that we were able to take advantage of when talking with homeowners.

The fact that Miami-Dade is one of the southernmost regions in Florida and having that recognition of UF/IFAS is definitely a challenge for us. People often confuse us with FIU and they aren’t really sure why UF is down here. We don’t have the recognition that a lot of other counties have that are closer, or have a stronger connection, to Gainesville. People kind of favor the hometown universities here and kind of see us as an outsider. That’s a challenge we face in having credibility in some areas.

What are some opportunities that you feel you only scratched the surface on, that the program and your successor can build on?
MH: One of the things that I really wanted to tackle was getting out in the community more and doing more workshops - whether it was with Florida-Friendly Landscaping or irrigation. Irrigation is never sexy but I did want to try to make that effort whether it was with industry or with homeowners – try to make irrigation more digestible on a basic level, for people to understand the relationship of plants and water and the connection to our South Florida ecosystem. Having workshops based on those topics is something I would like to have done more.

Also, I really wanted to strengthen our reporting and our evaluations for the irrigation program and really do more technical work behind those – calculating water saving and sharpening the tools that we already have and the things that we’re already doing to take them to the next level. I know that as it continues on those things will come to life with my successor.

I understand you’re headed west. What are you most excited about or looking forward to in this next chapter of your career?
MH: It’s a bittersweet move because I’ve really enjoyed my time with UF/IFAS; it’s such a great organization and it has an immense amount of resources that other extension services are not fortunate to have. But I am excited. I started my water conservation career in a drought-stricken state. Oklahoma was in a five year drought when I started my masters. I am excited to get back to a region more prone to drought, where people are more in tune with water conservation. Scarcity really seems to make a stronger impact on the way people think about water and the way they use it and how it’s managed and how we educate citizens on water conservation, especially in the landscape. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Saving Water Outdoors with Dr. Eban Bean

Last month I had the opportunity to assist Dr. Eban Bean, UF-ABE assistant professor in urban water resources engineering, during an equipment installation at research sites in Ocala. The residential locations feature cloud-based irrigation controllers (with mainline flow sensors), pressure-regulating spray bodies with multi-stream/multi-trajectory nozzles, and Florida-Friendly Landscaping! I could write an entire article just on how rare it is to see all those devices in one place! But the best part about these sites is what’s going on in the soil. Dr. Bean spoke with IrriGator on location to give us an inside look into this on-going research.

Research sites in Ocala (image E.Bean)
Where are we today?
EB: We’re at the sanctuary model home site within the On Top of the World development. Our study is looking at evaluating soil treatments and amendments to evaluate potential for irrigation reduction for turfgrass.

Can you tell us something about the treatments you’re studying?
EB: There are 10 homes in this model home site. Of those 10 we’re using 9 lots in our study. We divided them into 3 treatments.
  • One is the control – standard compacted soil that you might encounter after typical construction.
  • On another set of three we had the soil tilled down to a depth of about 5 to 6 inches.
  • And then on the last three sites we had the soil tilled but incorporated a compost amendment into the soil – that compost amendment would increase the organic matter which has been shown to increase soil water holding capacity. 

Tilling compost into the soil before adding sod (image E.Bean)
Tillage in agricultural settings has been shown to break up and mitigate compaction which would increase the amount of porosity or storage space in the soil to hold water. It will also allow for greater infiltration and maybe most important to the plant itself, it makes it a lot easier for the turfgrass or plants to put their roots into the soil and drive them deep.

Working with a cloud-based irrigation controller
Irrigation is an important aspect of this project. How are these landscapes being watered?
EB: These landscapes will be using the Hunter Hydrawise irrigation controllers, connected to a weather station that’s right here on the site. It will adjust irrigation based on the rainfall and weather conditions. We’re also putting soil moisture sensors in. Those are not controlling the irrigation. We’re just monitoring to evaluate what the difference in soil moisture is underneath the turfgrass. That should show us that if there’s more water that’s available, or higher soil moisture in the soils, then we wouldn’t need to irrigate as much and could cut back on the amount of irrigation that the turfgrass is receiving.

Text book soil moisture sensor installation 
Who else is collaborating on this study?
EB: Life Soils has provided the compost product – Command, a blend of sand and compost. Academic partners include Allan Bacon, from Soil Water Science, who is overseeing our soil sampling and analysis - looking at particle size distribution, soil organic matter, pH, bulk density and looking at how compact it is. From Environmental Horticulture, Jason Kruse is doing turfgrass evaluation monthly – measuring the level of greenness, doing biomass harvesting and looking at other metrics for turf quality as well. 

Lloyd Singleton prepares a soil sensor data logger
Lloyd Singleton from Sumter County Extension is working on this as part of his Masters in Agroecology. He’s looking at the water-balance and water metrics here. On Top of the World has been a fantastic partner. These model homes won’t be lived in for up to 5 years and our study is going at least 2 years. I can’t speak highly enough about their cooperation and how they’ve helped with coordinating the construction, development and amendments. It’s a great project to be on and part of this is working with such great partners.

What is the big picture impact here? This data can help inform which practices?
EB: This study is a proof of concept to look at the benefits of two practices: tillage just by itself and also the incorporation of a compost amendment. Those could be seen as two different recommendations. We can recommend tillage to some depth. We can also recommend tillage with a compost amendment. The big picture here is looking at ways that we can reduce irrigation. Here we’re in the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the numbers I’m aware of suggest somewhere around 60% of a home’s water use goes to landscape irrigation.  

Soil moisture sensor data logger in action 
On Top of the World is a unique opportunity. When this development received its water permit, it agreed to a water-use rate of 150 gallons per home daily, which is much less than typical usage (around 250 gallons daily). They are really looking at ways that they can reduce water consumption. Everything inside the home is high-efficiency, so the landscape is an opportunity where we can have some cost savings, and it’s also a place where a lot of water is used any way. They’re already using Florida-Friendly Landscaping here which reduces irrigation demand. 
Dr. Bean informs development & water district staff on the study
(image E.Bean)
So we’re looking at ways to further reduce water-use by causing the turfgrass to need less irrigation and potentially have some additional benefits with the compost providing some nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizer. The big picture here is can we give homeowners the same turfgrass experience and use less water. That’s the objective here: the same quality of turfgrass – same look, same feel – but it just doesn’t require as much water. That is a win for everybody: the producers, the water managers, the developers, the consumers. If we can make that more efficient that is a big plus for everybody.

Lloyd Singleton, urban horticulture agent with Sumter County Extension, presents on this research during day one of this week's Urban Landscape Summit.